Et Al. Jan21

Mystery Mountain (1934, 12 chapters)

A railway construction team that is attempting to tunnel through a mountain comes under attack by a gang led by a mysterious criminal known as “the Rattler”. Manager Frank Blayden (Edward Earle) suspects that someone associated with the Corwin Transportation Company, which will be out of business if the railway goes through, is responsible. However, the company, too, comes under attack, and Mr Corwin (Lafe McKee) is killed; his daughter, Jane (Verna Hillie), vows to help catch the Rattler. Blayden hires railway detective Ken Williams (Ken Maynard) to hunt down the mysterious criminal, whose real identity no-one knows… Mystery Mountain offers the by-now familiar scenario of a master criminal managing to head a gang of surprisingly willing henchman despite the fact that no-one knows who he is—and in this case, despite the fact that his base “disguise” is a black hat and cloak and, in effect, a Groucho get-up, only with dark glasses. This isn’t one of the era’s better serials: far too much of it consists of people riding back and forth across one of the drearier stretches of Bronson Canyon, lengthy though inconclusive gun-fights, and people being knocked out and tied up. Furthermore, Ken Williams’ sidekick, newspaperman “Breezy” Baker (Sid Saylor), who toggles between helpful and useless as the plot demands, also doubles as the Odious Comic Relief. Ultimately, the entertainment value of Mystery Mountain lies less in its plot than in its weird split-vision setting: this is basically a western—horses, six-shooters, ten-gallon hats and all; yet at the same time its supporting players wear standard 30s suit / hat / tie combinations, Breezy wanders around with a small portable camera, and somewhere there’s a police department with fingerprinting facilities. (My favourite bit of business here is an abrupt slide from a threatened lynching – “Here’s a rope and there’s a tree!” – to a quite different threat: “I’m going to sue you!”) Things pick up when it is revealed that the Rattler has a whole series of life-like masks that allow him to impersonate almost anyone – including Ken Williams – thus helpfully fudging the question of his identity. Is the Rattler Dr Edwards (Hooper Atchley), the railway physician? – or maybe Mathews (Lynton Brent), Blayden’s clerk? – or Lake (Edward Hearn), the head of a rival hauling firm? – or even Tom Henderson (Al Bridge), the Corwin team-boss? (Blayden thinks the Rattler is Jane Corwin! – which is nonsensical in context, but nevertheless the first time I’ve encountered even a suggestion that one of these master criminals might be a woman.) Of course Mystery Mountain climaxes in the unmasking of the Rattler—which in a delightful touch, is brought about by Ken’s horse, Tarzan (who gets second-billing here), effectively picking the guilty man out of a line-up! Gene Autry makes only his second ever appearance before the cameras here, in an unbilled bit as one of Lake’s teamsters.

Eureka Stockade (1949)

The opening voiceover of this Australian-shot Ealing production compares the miners’ rebellion of 1854 with Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence, which might be going just a leetle too far. A better point of comparison would be the Boston Tea Party, since the issue was, absolutely, taxation without representation. When gold is discovered in Victoria in 1851, it is a disaster for the growing colony. Denied both the vote and the right to own property, many immigrant workers walk away from their jobs on the land and in the new cities to seek an independent fortune on the goldfields. The government responds by imposing compulsory licensing on the would-be gold miners—to be paid monthly, in advance, and regardless of the discovery of any gold, or even any attempt to find some. Outraged, the miners begin to organise themselves under the leadership of Peter Lalor (Chips Rafferty); but there is a schism in the ranks between those who favour civil disobedience only and those who feel that change will only come through force. When the government calls in the army to quell their protests, the miners build a defensive stockade at Eureka Lead—flying above it a flag bearing the Southern Cross, to which they swear allegiance… Eureka Stockade is a well-intentioned but sometimes confusing depiction of the events leading up to the bloody clash between the rebel miners and the colonial army on the 3rd December, 1854—which is now somewhat controversially viewed as “the birth of Australian democracy”. In trying to cover a bit too much ground, the film sometimes leaves out important linking details, making it a difficult watch for anyone not already familiar with these historical events. However, one trap into which the film does not fall is over-glorifying the rebels. Though in sympathy with the miners, and showing in detail the increasingly punitive measures by which the government tried to force the immigrant workers back to their jobs (the fragile economy of the colony almost collapsed at this time), the screenplay also depicts the miners’ many missteps in the lead-up to the climactic battle, particularly the undermining of their cause via sporadic outbreaks of violence. A range of conflicting opinions are presented, including the opposition of local “schoolmarm”, Alicia Dunne (Jane Barrett), who sees the damage being done and the effect of the men’s actions upon the woman and children of Victoria: Alicia’s little goldfields school, at which she rounds up a number of neglected children, white and black alike, is one of the film’s most striking touches. The hopelessness of the rebels’ stand against the soldiers is also grimly emphasised—though of course, this was a case of lose the battle but win the war: the men who survived were arrested and charged with treason; but when it became clear that no jury was going to convict, the government capitulated. Chips Rafferty plays Peter Lalor (who later turned professional politician and blotted his copybook) as a reluctant rebel, deploring the need for violence but accepting its inevitability. He is supported by Gordon Jackson as a young Scottish settler; Peter Illing as Raffaello Carboni, the Italian writer and composer who later wrote the first eyewitness account of the events at the Eureka Stockade; Peter Finch as miners’ reform advocate, John Humffray; and John Cazabon as journalist and editor, Henry Seekamp, who as a result of his newspaper’s pro-miner (and anti-government) stance was convicted of seditious libel—becoming the only person jailed in the course of the rebellion.

Foreign Intrigue (1956)

Dave Bishop (Robert Mitchum) arrives at the luxurious villa on the Riviera owned by Victor Danemore (Jean Galland) to find his employer dying of an apparent heart attack. Ordering a doctor called, Bishop breaks the news to Damemore’s much-younger wife, Dominique (Geneviève Page), who is unmoved. She and Bishop reflect on their situations: she the beautiful trophy wife, “hired” to appear in public on her husband’s arm, he the press agent tasked with “selling” Danemore; between them they realise that they know nothing of his life before they met him—including how he made his money. As he handles the details of the millionaire’s passing, Bishop is struck by the fact that every person he speaks to asks him the same question: did Damemore say anything before he died…? After the funeral, Bishop is approached by the medical examiner (Georges Hubert), who tells him he has received a letter from an Austrian lawyer requesting certification of Danemore’s death. Bishop is also questioned by Spring (Frédéric O’Brady), an insurance agent—only to discover later that Danemore carried no insurance. Telephoning Vienna, he learns from Mannheim (Frederick Schrecker) that Damemore left with him a sealed document, to be destroyed if he died of natural causes, but opened and published if he did not. Bishop travels to Vienna, where he discovers that, several times a year, Danemore met there with a small group of businessmen, in an old house in one of the poorer sections of the city. Bishop then goes to his meeting with Mannheim, but finds the lawyer dead and the document missing… Foreign Intrigue is a fair thriller, a transition film of sorts. It starts out as a jigsaw narrative, with Bishop picking up scraps of information from a series of sources as he tries to piece together his late employer’s life; it then looks like it’s going to become an “innocent man on the run” film, after Bishop is caught standing over Mannheim’s body. Another shake of the narrative then reveals the film’s true identity as a post-WWII / beginning of the Cold War political thriller: Danemore was a blackmailer, holding explosive information about certain high-placed individuals from all over the world regarding their activities during the war. One of the men in question has hired Spring as his agent—to follow Bishop; to work with him in retrieving the document; to kill him if necessary… Foreign Intrigue is interesting but flawed: it is overlong, and takes too much time about getting to its “real” plot. However, its main shortcoming is the intrusively cutesy relationship between Bishop and Brita Lindquist (Ingrid Thulin), the daughter of one of Danemore’s victims, which adds nothing to the narrative, but is presumably there to convince the audience that the rather amoral Bishop is a “nice guy” after all. All of this notwithstanding, and Geneviève Page’s chilly performance as Dominique included, Foreign Intrigue is basically stolen by Frédéric O’Brady as the dangerous but oddly likeable Spring. The film’s other great virtue is its location shooting in France, Austria, and Sweden.

The Last Days Of Pompeii (1959)

Based upon the novel by Edward Bulwer-Lytton; original title: Gli ultimi giorni di Pompei. Glaucus (Steve Reeves), a Roman centurion who has covered himself with glory in Palestine, travels wearily home to Pompeii, thinking only of being reunited with his father. Before he reaches the city, he rescues from a runaway chariot a beautiful young woman who he learns is Ione (Christine Kaufman), the daughter of Ascanius (Guillermo Marin), the city’s Consul. He also intervenes to save a thief, Antonius (Ángel Aranda), from the brutal treatment of Gallinus (Mimmo Palmara), the Captain of the Praetorian Guard. Arriving at his father’s house, Glaucus finds it in ruins: he is told that a band of masked marauders, believed to be Christians, have been attacking patrician households and robbing and killing the occupants. However, when Antonius picks the pocket of a Roman soldier, he discovers a black hood and a ring that belonged to Glaucus’ father. He carries these to Glaucus’ friend, Marcus (Mario Morales), and points out to him the man he robbed. Marcus follows the soldier, and to his astonishment finds himself in the Temple of Isis—where he is caught by the High Priest, Arbaces (Fernando Rey). When Marcus’ body is found in the streets with a cross carved into it, it triggers a new wave of anti-Christian violence: Gallinus rounds up a group of the faithful, including Ione’s blind handmaiden, Nydia (Barbara Carroll), who are condemned to face lions in the arena. However, by now Glaucus is convinced the Christians are innocent of wrongdoing; his determination to prove it makes him a dangerous enemy to Arbaces and his co-conspirator, Ascanius’ mistress, Julia (Anne-Marie Baumann)… This historical drama marked Steve Reeves’ first attempt to distance himself from the Hercules films that made him a star; and while it was not, perhaps, quite different enough from those to get the job done, it does offer a few interesting points of contrast. Glaucus, though a superior soldier, is no demi-god; and he needs all the help he can get to counter the deadly plotting of Julia and Arbaces (who are ordering the violent raids to fund the raising of a mercenary army, to avenge themselves on Rome) and the enmity of Gallinus, and to rescue the condemned Christians: a group that includes Ione. Otherwise, The Last Days Of Pompeii is rather too predictable—right down to the runaway chariot that brings Glaucus and Ione together in the first place. There is the inevitable good girl / bad girl dichotomy between Ione and Julia, who of course gets the hots for Glaucus; and a series of confrontations between Glaucus and Gallinus—the latter played, much to my evil delight, by Mimmo Palmera; and if his performance isn’t as bad here as in Hercules, it’s not good. But perhaps the film’s biggest problem is that what occupies the last days of Pompeii seems too often to be just marking time before we get to the last day. The destruction-of-Pompeii sequence of this film is justly celebrated, and would be plundered again and again by future productions; though I must say I don’t find it wholly satisfying. In colour, the fakeness of the crumbling masonry is too often obvious; though my main issue is that Pompeii – presumably for practical reasons – is ultimately devastated by an earthquake rather than by a pyroclastic flow. However, this is still a fairly satisfying film of its type. The direction of The Last Days Of Pompeii is credited to Mario Bonnard, but when he fell ill early in production the job passed to second unit director, Sergio Leone, who was also one of the film’s five screenwriters. Another of them was Sergio Corbucci—although what caught my eye was the credit, colour consultant: Jorge Grau. Mario Bava, uncredited as so often, did the film’s matte paintings.

The Man Who Finally Died (1963)

Joe Newman (Stanley Baker) is summoned to Germany from England by a mysterious phone-call from a man calling himself Kurt Deutsch. Arriving in the small Bavarian town from which the call originated, Newman inquires at the hotel, only to be told that Kurt Deutsch died a week ago—before the call was placed. Newman responds wryly that, as far as he knew, Kurt Deutsch had been dead for twenty years… Newman makes his way to the house where Deutsch died, where to the housekeeper, Martha Gelman (Barbara Everest), he reveals himself to be Joachim Deutsch, who was sent away to England at the outbreak of the war. Martha is delighted to see him again, yet obviously very nervous about something. Newman is surprised to learn that his father had remarried, to a much younger woman, Lisa (Mai Zetterling); he also discovers that the house where she is still living belongs to Dr Peter von Brecht (Peter Cushing). The others inform Newman that his father was a prisoner of war who escaped only a few years before from behind the Iron Curtain. However, to Newman their stories don’t add up: he discovers that his Protestant father was buried in a Catholic cemetery, and that Lisa did not attend the funeral. This, plus the mystery of the phone-call, sends him to Inspector Hofmeister (Eric Portman), to request an exhumation. Hofmeister responds with hostility, angering Newman; though he does reveal that he was present at the dinner-party at which Kurt Deutsch suffered a stroke. When Newman returns to the hotel, he encounters insurance investigator Brenner (Niall McGinnis), who suggests that for the benefit of a valuable policy, Kurt Deutsch may – with help – have faked his own death… The Man Who Finally Died began life as a TV drama broadcast in 1959, before being adapted for the big screen by its creator, Lewis Greifer. It is a film that starts out as one kind of thriller before turning into a different kind—the problem being that despite the latter’s Cold War politics and its rare portrait of Germany a generation on from the war, with its lingering issues and the struggle of the people – some of the people – to come to terms with their past, its story is a lot less engaging than the mystery we are first offered. The other issue is the character of Joe Newman. I usually like Stanley Baker, but he is really unpleasant here: Newman is a man with a chip on his shoulder, a belligerent attitude, and a misogynistic slur on his lips for any woman who (in his mind) crosses him. The film’s late suggestion of a tentative romance between Newman and Maria (Georgina Ward), a young woman who has spent her entire life in an internment camp, is – all things considered – just insulting. The Man Who Finally Died is, nevertheless, a film that succeeds in generating suspense by telling the viewer something that the main character doesn’t know: that it was Brenner who made the phone-call posing as Kurt Deutsch, specifically to shock him into inquiring into his father’s death, or “death”. It is evident that a conspiracy of some kind is playing out, but is it a case of insurance fraud, or is there more at stake? As Newman pursues his investigation from the cemetery to the police station to the internment camp, it becomes harder and harder for him to be sure who his friends and enemies are, and exactly what mystery he might end up solving… Despite its shortcomings, The Man Who Finally Died is worth watching for its stark black-and-white cinematography, its unusual backdrop and its cast—which also includes Nigel Green as a police subordinate, a year before his co-casting with Stanley Baker in Zulu. On the downside, we don’t get as much Peter Cushing as we would like, though he does offer one of the film’s most memorable moments when, in response to Lisa’s distress about “participating in a crime”, he points out quietly that he once participated in six million of them…

A Woman At Her Window (1976)

Based upon the novel by Pierre Drieu La Rochelle; original title: Une Femme à sa Fenêtre. This French-Italian-German political drama is a difficult film for a number of reasons: it begins in medias res, offering no introductions or context for its characters or setting; its narrative is fractured, flashing forward and back without warning; and it presumes audience familiarity with events in Greece in 1936, when the totalitarian “4th of August Regime” seized power and declared martial law. (Current prints are also dubbed into English in a way that does the multinational cast no favours.) Eventually we understand this to be the story of the wealthy, Austrian-born Margot Santorini (Romy Schneider), who despite her position leads a life of superficial boredom until an encounter with Communist union leader, Michel Boutros (Victor Lanoux). Hunted across Athens by the police, the desperate Boutros takes refuge in Margot’s ground-floor hotel room after she opens her windows to see what the commotion in the street is about. Her impulse is to hide the wanted man; she confides the situation to her Italian diplomat husband, Rico (Umberto Orsini), who occupies adjoining rooms: his contempt for the current regime leads him to defy the state forces led by Primoukis (Gastone Moschin) when they come to search the hotel. With the help of Rico’s close friend, Raoul Malfosse (Philippe Noiret), who secretly loves Margot, the Santorinis scheme to help Boutros out of Greece—the situation becoming momentarily more complicated and dangerous by the growing attraction between Boutros and Margot… A Woman At Her Window is interesting up to a point, but it ought to be better. Though it deals in theory with the coming of a brutal regime, rather than dealing with the consequences of the takeover for the people of Greece the film’s narrative stays with the aristocrats and diplomats who are for the most part sheltered from the upheaval and continue on with their life of privilege. More critically still, the relationship between Margot and Boutros is never really convincing; nor is it clear whether we are supposed to infer some sort of political “awakening” on Margot’s part, or whether the affair is simply one of passion. Actually, the most interesting relationships in the film are those between Margot and Rico, who – though on the verge of drifting into divorce – are ironically brought closer by their mutual defence of Boutros; and between Margot and Raoul, who abets Boutros’ escape despite his jealousy and resentment. It is the escape that confusingly opens the film, before A Woman At Her Window flashes back to show the events leading up to that moment, then flashes forward to the end of WWII to fill in the gaps in the characters’ narratives, the consequences of their choices, and their eventual fates… In spite of its flaws, A Woman At Her Window has the virtue of dealing with important and too often overlooked political events (though it could have done it better); it also uses its Greek locations to advantage, particularly the scenes at Delphi that open the film. The supporting cast features Delia Boccardo, Martine Brochard and Joachim Hansen; while Euro-film regular Paul Muller appears as the manager of the hotel.

The Scarlet And The Black (1983)

Based upon The Pied Piper Of The Vatican by J. P. Gallagher. As German forces occupy Rome in 1943, General Max Helm (Walter Gotell) and Colonel Herbert Kappler (Christopher Plummer) confront Pope Pius XII (John Gielgud). They assure him that Vatican sovereignty will be respected, but in return demand that no refuge is offered to the many Allied POWs who have escaped their prison camps following the Italian surrender. To enforce their stance, the Nazis paint a white line across St Peter’s Square, showing exactly where their authority ends—and begins. Though suspicious of the Vatican’s role in helping escapees, Jews and other “undesirables”, the Nazis do not know that Monseigneur Hugh O’Flaherty (Gregory Peck), a senior official, has established an underground network of priests, nuns, civilians and Allied officers that offers refuge to people on the run from the Nazis and works to smuggle them out of the country. Despite the ever-increasing danger, the underground continues its work, driving Kappler to escalating efforts to break its back and expose its organisers… The Scarlet And The Black is one of those films that tell a story you have to believe because it’s true, but doesn’t feel particularly true while you’re watching it. Though the scenes of O’Flaherty evading Nazi vigilance through a series of disguises are, again, true enough in essence, there’s an almost-joky air about them here – Ooh look, it’s Gregory Peck! – that undermines the deadly seriousness of the situation. Another problem is the eternal one of films like this, in which we have John Gielgud being snootily British as the (Italian) Pope, Christopher Plummer speaking English with a German accent, and Gregory Peck doing an awful brogue that wanders all over the place. Though in one sense it should be praised for raising the issue at all, The Scarlet And The Black finally shies away from the question of Vatican culpability during the war. More worrying is the emphasis placed in this film upon O’Flaherty’s assistance of POWs—which the screenplay foregrounds while downplaying the priest’s role in the rescuing of thousands of Jews. Perhaps most strangely of all, however, is that the film makes no mention of Kappler’s responsibility for the Ardeatine massacre of 1944. Shot on location in Rome, this elaborate made-for-TV movie also features Barbara Bouchet as Mrs Kappler, Raf Vallone as Father Vittorio, T. P. McKenna as Heinrich Himmler, Edmund Purdom as a British Intelligence Officer (he also delivers the film’s epilogue), Marne Maitland as the Papal Secretary—and, as Francesca Lombardo, one of O’Flaherty’s chief civilian workers, Olga Karlatos, better known around these parts for being on the receiving end of one of cinema’s most notorious bits of eye-violence

Orlando (1992)

Based upon the novel by Virginia Woolf. At the turn of the 17th century, the elderly Queen Elizabeth (Quentin Crisp) becomes fixated upon the young Lord Orlando (Tilda Swinton). She gifts him his family estate in perpetuity, but upon one condition: “Do not fade. Do not wither. Do not grow old.” Ten years later, though betrothed to another woman, Orlando falls in love with the Princess Sasha (Charlotte Valandrey), daughter of the Russian ambassador; however, she returns to Moscow and breaks his heart. Orlando’s next venture is poetry, but this too ends abruptly when his chosen mentor, Nick Greene (Heathcote Williams), ridicules his efforts. In response, Orlando terrifies his household by sinking into a deep sleep that lasts a full seven days. After this, he does not emerge again until the time of William and Mary, when he is sent to Constantinople as ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. He conceives a deep friendship for the Khan (Lothaire Bluteau) and immerses himself in the Eastern way of life. However, when war comes Orlando suffers another personal crisis and sinks once again into his defensive sleep—this time waking up as a woman… Sally Potter’s adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s “unfilmable” novel is necessarily a much-altered and idiosyncratic film, and one that self-evidently isn’t for everyone. Some people, I know, find it rather smug and self-congratulatory, and they’re not necessarily wrong. However, for those who can buy into its sex and gender games, there is an amusing audacity about Orlando—as well as real courage, at the time of its production (as there was at the time of the novel’s writing), in Orlando’s declared manifesto: “Same person; different sex.” The film also requires, of course, that the viewer simply accept Orlando’s cessation of ageing and his switch to become her: though “triggered” in the film as they are not in the book, these events remain essentially unexplained—beyond the wry observation that they are accepted because the English are simply too polite to remark upon them. However, this does not apply to Orlando’s emergence as a woman in Georgian England, where as a woman she was not of course entitled to have inherited her family’s property—and the law-suits begin. From this point, having as Lord Orlando dabbled in love and poetry and politics, the Lady Orlando chooses to experience society—and sex—and eventually motherhood… Orlando has much to offer even to those who don’t choose to unpack its politics. Visually it is astonishing, successfully creating snapshots of society over some four hundred years; the Constantinople scenes, filmed in Uzbekistan, are particularly striking. Tilda Swinton is gorgeous here, moving effortlessly through Orlando’s various manifestations.

Deep Family Secrets (1997)

Though having found success and wealth after difficult beginnings in Alabama, the Chadway family struggles to hold it together. Renee Chadway (Angie Dickinson) is becoming increasingly erratic in her behaviour, constantly suspecting her husband, Clay (Richard Crenna), of infidelity and weeping over events from the past. Son Bobby (Jeff Kizer) is estranged from his parents, though he lives at home; while daughter Lisa (Christie Lynn Smith) spends most of her time partying. Only youngest child JoAnne (Molly Gross), an aspiring country singer, maintains good relationships. When Renee’s car is found abandoned one night, blood smears on the dashboard, the police are called; however, even as Detectives Winters (Craig Wasson) and Herndon (Sue Bugden) begin to investigate, Renee turns up, dazed and sobbing, with cuts on her wrist suggesting a suicide attempt. Soon afterwards, Renee catches Clay having lunch with her own sister, Ellen (Meg Foster): both insist there is no affair, but Renee explodes with rage. JoAnne finds her mother packing and induces her to promise she will do nothing until she, JoAnne, establishes the truth; but the next morning, a call from Lisa reveals that, during the night, Renee disappeared… This made-for-TV movie is based upon the real-life case of Ruby Morris, but with enough changed to make you wonder why they bothered—particularly when the true story is even nastier and weirder than what they served up here. In fact, the screenplay leaves out the nastiest detail of the case, which (along with a few other things) has the questionable effect of softening the murderer’s character. Deep Family Secrets is a strangely old-fashioned film: despite its production date, it feels more like a 70s TV movie – though it’s not as good as most of those – than it does a “ripped from the headlines” thriller. An attempt seems to have been made to turn it, rather, into a mystery—which seems an odd choice only a few years after a well-publicised trial, but perhaps explains the otherwise haphazard way that the true story is used or abandoned. As a result, the film misses the chance to build a successful drama out of what was one of the cruellest aspects of the case: that it was the victim’s daughter – the JoAnne character here – who ended up compiling the crucial evidence against her father, inevitably the police’s prime suspect. In fact, I think that this was what they were going for here, but the imbalance of the casting – stars Richard Crenna and Angie Dickinson, plus a distracting cameo from Meg Foster, against inexperienced Molly Gross in what should have been the film’s dominant role – works against its success. Deep Family Secrets was directed by Arthur Allen Seidelman, who was somehow allowed to go on working after debuting with Hercules In New York.

One Hour Photo (2002)

Nina Yorkin (Connie Nielsen), her husband, Will (Michael Vartin), and their young son, Jake (Dylan Smith), have for many years been regular customers at the one-hour photo-development booth at their local mall, where their pictures receive the personal attention of the senior technician, Sy Parrish (Robin Williams). The Yorkins do not realise that Sy, lonely and mentally unstable, has built a rich fantasy life around them and their seemingly perfect family unit, in which he is the much-loved “Uncle Sy”. Reality for the Yorkins is, however, very different: Nina compensates for the shortcomings of her marriage by overspending, while Will is secretly having an affair with a co-worker, Maya Burson (Erin Daniels). At work, Sy is increasingly unable to control his behaviour, and receives a warning from his manager, Bill Owens (Gary Cole). When it emerges that Sy has been using the development booth’s resources for his own purposes – in fact, to make the extra prints of the Yorkins’ photos with which he wallpapers his apartment – Owens gives Sy notice. When, on his last day, Sy learns about Will’s affair via some film dropped off by Maya, it pushes him over the edge… It is a truism that things from not so long ago can often seem much more dated than older material, and this less-than-twenty-year-old thriller seemingly exists just to illustrate the point. Made when traditional film photography was being overtaken by the digital camera, thus eliminating the need for film development, but no-one had as yet anticipated a time when everyone would carry a camera in their pocket and casual, incessant photography would be a normal part of life, One Hour Photo unfolds in an odd sort of twilight zone—not at all inappropriately for the story it is telling, or trying to. The film works very well as a character study, with Robin Williams succeeding in making Sy both sympathetic and cringingly off-putting; much less so with respect to what it thinks it is saying about society and human connection. (We have here the usual blithe movie assumption that if someone is introverted and solitary, they’re probably psychotic.) The problem is that the shattering of Sy’s fantasy requires the Yorkins to be far less than the sum of their snapshots—but that leaves the viewer with little reason to care about them. The final act, with Sy’s stalking of the Yorkins giving way to violent action, is too familiar in its outlines to be truly effective, although the specific nature of Sy’s revenge upon Will Yorkin is unexpected. On the other hand, I would have preferred Sy’s back-story, info-dumped towards the end, to be handled with a lot more subtlety. I would also argue that, despite all this, nothing in this film is as disturbing as Sy’s quiet gesture, post-sacking, of sending Bill Owens a snapshot… Robin Williams’ performance dominates One Hour Photo to the extent that the supporting cast is left without much room to move; though Gary Cole has some good moments as Owens, and Eriq La Salle is effective as the cop who grows to understand Sy.

Let The Bullets Fly (2010)

The bandit “Pockmark” Zhang (Jiang Wen) leads his men in a raid against a horse-drawn train carrying the new governor of Goose Town, Ma Bangde (Ge You), and his wife (Carina Lau). The resulting crash kills the governor’s bodyguards and his advisor: to save his own life, Ma assumes the identity of the advisor, Tang, with his wife playing along as the governor’s widow. “Tang” tells Zhang that he can help him assume the governorship of Goose Town, a position that will allow him to plunder the town’s finances. Zhang agrees to this plan, but soon finds himself opposed by Lord Huang (Chow Yun-fat), a criminal boss who lives in a fortified citadel at the edge of the city. Previous governors – there have been five, all of whom eventually met with “an accident” – split their profits with Huang, but Zhang soon makes it clear he has no intention of following suit, nor any interest in extorting money from the poor townspeople: instead setting his sights on Huang’s ill-gotten gains. When the escalating conflict between the two results in the death of “Six” (Mo Zhang), one of the bandits and Zhang’s adopted son, the battle ceases to be about money alone and becomes one of revenge… One of the most successful Chinese films of recent years, Let The Bullets Fly is an action comedy in while the violence and the humour are brutal in about equal measure. However, this is no straightforward actioner, but a wildly-plotted story of doublecross and triplecross which plays games with the mutability of identity: Lord Huang has a literal double; Ma Bangde must pretend to be his own subordinate; the bandits are known by number, not name (to everyone’s ultimate confusion including their own); and the question of whether the new governor is or is not in fact the notorious “Pockmark” Zhang – he has no pockmarks – comes and goes throughout the narrative. Though based upon a story by the Sichuanese author, Ma Shitu, Let The Bullets Fly consciously evokes the “bad town” films of Kurosawa Akira, Yojimbo and Sanjuro (and of course their spaghetti western descendants, A Fistful Of Dollars and For A Few Dollars More), with the initially money-based conflict between Zhang and Huang developing into an intensely personal battle. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of this film (at least for some of us) is the need to adjust to Chow Yun-fat as an outright villain—and in spite of the charisma, a viciously nasty villain. At first glance, the decision of writer-director Jiang Wen to cast himself as Zhang seems a little hubristic, but as it turns out that he was absolutely right: the role demanded someone able to hold the screen against Chow, and Jiang does so effortlessly; while the two are well-supported by Ge You as the duplicitous Ma Bangde / Tang. Let The Bullets Fly was a major award-winner at the time of its release, and the fact that the three stars split the acting gongs amongst themselves speaks for itself.

(Bonus points here for the Red Cliff joke…)

Cheerful Weather For The Wedding (2012)

Based upon the novel by Julia Strachey. On a chilly winter’s morning, family and friends begin to gather at the country home of the Thatchums, for the wedding of Dolly Thatchum (Felicity Jones) and the Honourable Owen Bigham (James Norton). As time passes, tensions begin to rise—first over the non-appearance downstairs of the bride-to-be, then because of the unexpected arrival of Joseph Patten (Luke Treadaway), with whom Dolly conducted a summer romance before – depending on who you ask – she was packed off to Albania by her mother, Mrs Thatchum (Elizabeth McGovern), and he chose to take up a position on an archaeological dig in Greece rather than make a commitment. Upstairs and downstairs, Dolly and Joseph remember the past and try to make a decision about the future—yet the time ticks away with nothing resolved… Cheerful Weather For The Wedding is a beautifully mounted but not wholly successful film. Like the novel upon which it is based, this is a story that relies upon implication and allusion; and while understatement is fine, this is finally just a little too oblique. Few of the characters are properly introduced – and it’s not a small cast – and there is so much muttering and throwing of asides that it’s almost impossible to catch everything without the closed captioning on. In essence, what we have here is a will-she / won’t-she plot, with Dolly preparing – slowly and reluctantly – for her wedding to one man, all the while remembering a past romance with another. The chilly present and the warmly romantic past are designed and shot in contrasting styles and colours—begging the question of whether the latter is real or being seen through a wishful haze. The inability of the central pair to confront their situations, or even to speak to each other until it’s too late, becomes increasingly frustrating – though of course that’s the point – while the side-plots are as much sad as funny. Felicity Jones and Luke Treadaway are effective if not particularly sympathetic as Dolly and Joseph; with Elizabeth McGovern rather obviously cast as the brittle and dangerously tunnel-visioned Mrs Thatchum. Eva Traynor is fine as the sympathetic housekeeper, Annie, who sees everything but says nothing. The production design and costuming are, as you would expect, spot on.

R. I. P. D. (2013)

During a raid, Boston police detectives Nick Walker (Ryan Reynolds) and Bobby Hayes (Kevin Bacon) discover and secrete several pieces of gold. Nick is motivated by his fear that he is not providing sufficiently for his wife, Julia (Stéphanie Szostak). However, when Julia assures him how happy and contented she is with their life, Nick realises he has crossed a line and finds an opportunity to tell Hayes that, while he will keep his mouth shut, he cannot go on with their plan. The two then become involved in a major drug bust—during which, Hayes finds an opportunity to shoot Nick dead. For Nick, time stops as he is pulled up into a great vortex—but at the last moment he finds himself in an office facing Mildred Proctor (Mary-Louise Parker0, head of the Boston branch of the Rest In Peace Department. Nick is informed that rather than face immediate punishment for his sins, he will have the chance to redeem himself as part of the squad responsible for identifying and removing “Deados” – souls that refuse to move on – from the living world. He is partnered with Roycephus Pulsipher (Jeff Bridges), a former Civil War soldier and US marshall still fixated upon his undignified death during the late 19th century. During his own funeral, Nick tries to speak to Julia but she does not recognise him: he then learns that members of the R.I.P.D. are issued new identities and appearances; his own is that of a middle-aged Asian man known as “Grandpa Jerry Chen” (James Hong), while Roy is the sexy blonde Opal Pavelenko (Marisa Miller). The two set out after their first Deado—and during the confrontation, Nick discovers that their suspect is in possession of a familiar shard of gold… This alleged action-comedy is “high concept” at its lowest ebb, a shameless rip-off of Men In Black with undead monsters instead of aliens, and dollops of Beetlejuice stirred in. And Ghost. And Ghostbusters. I guess what I’m saying is that this thing doesn’t have an original bone in its body. I know that R.I.P.D. was based upon a comic book, but either the comic book itself is shamelessly derivative or this is a lousy adaptation (I’m guessing the latter). The only tiny bit of originality here is that the story is set in Boston instead of the seemingly inevitable New York, but nothing is really done with the change of venue beyond a visit to Fenway Park. I suppose if you can shift your brain to neutral there are a few amusing moments here, mostly courtesy of Jeff Bridges, but overall this is one of those relentless CGI sound-and-fury films where they just keep throwing stuff at the viewer in the seeming hope of it adding up to something. Eventually the “point” turns out to be the attempted reconstruction of the Staff of Jericho, an artefact capable of reversing the flow of souls to the afterlife, an event which would destroy the living world. Bobby Hayes – revealed as a disguised Deado – is leading the effort to discover and reassemble the gold shards which will power the device. Though technically suspended in the wake of a destructive, downtown confrontation with a Deado, Nick and Roy put aside their differences to go after Hayes. Their race against time to stop the reassembly of the Staff of Jericho takes on an extra dimension for Nick when Hayes, needing a human sacrifice to activate the staff, decides that Julia would be the perfect victim…

(Disclosure: This film managed to offend me deeply by placing the R.I.P.D.’s secret entrance to the city at the back of a VCR repair shop because, “When was the last time you got a VCR repaired?” Ahem. That would be about a year ago, Jack…)

Lizzie Borden Took An Ax (2014)

Fall River, Massachusetts, 1892. Tensions are high within the Borden family. Older daughter, Emma (Clea Duvall), submites to the authority of her father, Andrew (Stephen McHatte), and step-mother, Abby (Sara Botsford). However, the younger Lizzie (Christina Ricci) rebels against the narrowness of her life and resents Andrew’s generosity to Abby’s family. She steals money from her step-mother’s purse to pay for a new party-dress and, when forbidden to attend, slips out of the house anyway. During a bitter argument, Andrew accuses Lizzie of dishonesty and ingratitude; while she in turn accuses him of wanting to keep her a prisoner in his house. The following Sunday, Andrew returns home in the late morning to be informed by Lizzie that Abby has gone out, having received a message from a sick friend. Lizzie is solicitous about settling her father on a sofa for his usual nap. Some time later, the maid, Bridget (Hannah Emily Anderson), is shocked by Lizzie’s hysterical screaming: the two young women stare in horror at the body of Andrew Borden, who has been hacked to death. While doctors and the police are examining the scene, a second discovery is made: Abby is upstairs, murdered like her husband… I’m a killjoy, I suppose, but I don’t understand why film-makers feel the need to tamper with the historical stories they tell—not just in a filling-in-the-gaps way, which goodness knows this particular story offers enough opportunities for, but in a re-write-established facts way. Why tell a story at all if you’re not going to tell the truth? Lizzie Borden Took An Ax is an extremely poor re-imagining of the notorious Fall River axe murders, ill-conceived from start to finish—from its young, rebellious, sexed-up version of Lizzie to its godawful electric-guitar-based soundtrack, which may be *the* worst score in movie history. The enduring interest in this case is, surely, the gulf between the savagery of the murders and Lizzie’s previously unblemished reputation as a devoted churchwoman and obedient daughter? – whereas this film gives us a hair-trigger Lizzie who lies and steals and looks like she can hardly wait to axe someone to death. Not surprisingly, this version of the story goes with one of the more lurid theories of the crimes, hinting at an incestuous situation between Lizzie and Andrew. (I gather that 2018’s Lizzie went with the other such theory, the threatened exposure of a lesbian relationship between Lizzie and the maid.) However, this barely registers in a scenario that alters almost every aspect of the case, from the layout of the house, to the the medico-legal procedure of the time, to the nature of Lizzie’s evidence and conduct, to the court proceedings—and tops this off by concluding on a blatant lie—in fact, two blatant lies, with a climactic scene wherein Lizzie whispers the truth to a horrified, sobbing Emma, which is clearly included simply as an excuse to show her committing the bloody murders.

(Before you ask: aware of the follow-up series, haven’s seen it.)

My Daughter Must Live (2014)

When sixteen-year-old Kate O’Malley (Madeleine Martin) collapses, it is discovered that she has a liver infection. The doctor (Raechel Crawford) tells Ragen O’Malley (Joelle Carter) and her husband, Hugh (Paul Popowich), that Katie’s condition may resolve itself; but that it may also accelerate to the point where she needs a liver transplant. The O’Malleys and their relatives undergo testing to establish whether any of them is suitable as a living donor, but discover that they are not; and the tests reveal more: to Ragen’s horror, she learns that Katie is not Hugh’s daughter, but the result of a drunken, long-regretted one-night hook-up with her ex, Dan Travis (Sergio Di Zio), while she and Hugh were separated. Ragen keeps the secret; but when Katie’s condition continues to deteriorate, she has no option but to try and track Dan down. This will not be easy: from an old friend, Colin (David Richmond-Peck), Ragen learns that Dan is on the run after crossing a criminal boss—and that he stole from the boss in order to fund his flight… My Daughter Must (Have A) Live(r) is a dreary little time-waster, all angst and emotional declarations and precious little plot, despite the Shocking Revelation™ on which the plot hinges. The only vaguely interesting thing here – though I doubt that director John L’Ecuyer and screenwriters Al Kratina and Ronald Weir meant it to be read this way – is that everyone reacts to the Shocking Revelation™ by being absolutely awful and incredibly selfish; particularly Hugh, who nearly made me put a boot through the screen with his constant moaning: “I’m her father! I’m the one who sang to her every night!” Hey, buddy—NOT CURRENTLY RELEVANT!! Those people who think Lifetime movies are all about saintly women and sinning men might be surprised by the way this film pillories Ragen; though of course she finally pays her dues by doing the traditional “anything it takes” to help her daughter—from tracking down Dan and threatening to ruin his perfect new life if he doesn’t help Katie, to confronting the dangerous Wagner (Maurice Dean Wint), a move that could cost her her life…

Sicilian Ghost Story (2017)

In the Sicilian countryside, teenagers Luna (Julia Jedlikowska) and Giuseppe (Gaetano Fernandez) take the first tentative steps towards a relationship, in spite of the bitter disapproval of Luna’s mother (Sabine Timoteo), who speaks ominously of Giuseppe’s father. The two spend a magical day together which includes their first kiss; but at the end of it, Giuseppe disappears… Luna fights back against the strange silence that surrounds the boy’s absence, demanding in class to know where he is and presenting herself at the house that Giuseppe’s mother shares with his grandfather: the former embraces her in silence but the latter throws her out bodily. Luna and her friend, Loredana (Corinne Musallari) – having first dyed their hair blue to attract attention – also hand out ‘missing’ flyers with Giuseppe’s picture on them, but these too receive no response. As time passes, Luna’s incessant thoughts of Giuseppe become dreams—and then visions… Co-written and directed by Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza, Sicilian Ghost Story takes the brutal real-life case of young Giuseppe di Matteo, who was abducted, imprisoned and finally murdered by the Mafia when his father turned informant, and turns it into an only slightly-softened work that blends a kind of magical reality with a stark condemnation of the conspiracy of silence that permits such acts. While it is hard to avoid comparison with the works of Guillermo del Toro, particularly Pan’s LabyrinthSicilian Ghost Story creates its own identity, playing out on the borderline between harsh reality and an almost dreamlike – though no less dangerous – vision of the Sicily of the ancient myths, and with its plot depending upon a mystical connection between its young protagonists. For a time, the film’s title seems harshly ironic: Giuseppe and his father are both “ghosts” in their way, ceasing to exist for the townspeople who know better that to see what they shouldn’t; but as the narrative unfolds it takes on a more literal meaning. Always a dreamer, in the wake of Giuseppe’s disappearance Luna begins catching glimpses of him that, at first, she knows to be just her imagination—but which later become something else… Sicilian Ghost Story is a long film and rather measured in its pace, a choice that emphasises the passage of time and serves as a reminder of the protracted brutalising of the film’s tragic young inspiration; and it is not an easy one to watch. Luna’s stubborn pursuit of the truth, her tendency to lash out and her increasingly reckless behaviour are also difficult to go along with, no matter how deeply we may sympathise with her pain and frustration; though on the other hand, we know, as those around her do not, the meaning of her dreams and visions. Sicilian Ghost Story was shot on location in the Nenrodi National Park, which the beautiful cinematography of Luca Bigazzo turns into a dark fantasyland. The film is naturally dominated by the two young actors at its centre, who are both fine in their demanding roles.

Spoor (2017)

Based upon the novel Prowadź swój pług przez kości umarłych (Drive Your Plow Over The Bones Of The Dead) by Olga Tokarczuk; original title: Pokot. The elderly Janina Duszejko (Agnieszka Mandat) lives alone with her dogs in the Polish countryside, teaching English part-time at the local school where the children adore her—though their parents aren’t so sure. Janina is well-known to the police, who consider her a nuisance for her repeated complaints about poaching, hunting out of season and animal cruelty, none of which they have ever paid any attention to. One day, Janina returns home and discovers that her dogs are missing: though she searches desperately, she never sees them again. One night, Janina is woken by her neighbour, Swietopelk Swierszczynski (Wiktor Zborowski), who tells her that he has found the poacher known as “Big Foot” dead in his hut nearby. The two of them argue over what to do and finally lift the body from the floor to the bed, an action that attracts the attention of the police. Knowing of the hostility that existed between Janina and Big Foot, the police chief (Andrzej Konopka) questions her but ends the interview when she tries to explain the influence of a person’s horoscope on their lives. Janina forms friendships with Dobra Nowina (Patricia Volny), a young woman caught in a contentious relationship with the wealthy Jaroslaw Wnetrzak (Borys Szyc), who keeps foxes for skinning and leads the local hunt, and Dyzio (Jakub Gierszal), who she learns lied about his epilepsy to get an IT job with the police. One night, Janina and Dyzio discover the dead body of the police chief on an isolated road; Janina notes that the only tracks nearby are those of deer. Soon afterwards, Wnetrzak disappears… Directed by Agnieszka Holland, Spoor is a long and quite complicated film, part murder mystery, part eco-thriller, part black comedy and part character study. It makes splendid use of its settings in the Kłodzko Valley of south-western Poland; though given its focus upon hunting and the mistreatment of animals generally, there are also a number of scenes here that might make some of us (not mentioning any names) hide our faces. Janina’s pro-animal stance isolates her from her community, where hunting is a year-round recreation sponsored by the wealthy and supported by the church; though over time, she does succeed in gathering a small band of friends – including the Czech entomologist, Boros Schneider (Miroslav Krobot) – whose own situations and tastes likewise put them at odds with the majority. Through these scenes winds the central thread that involves the death or disappearance of several prominent townspeople, all of them under strange circumstances. With the police baffled, it is Janina who suggests that the animals of the region have finally turned upon their tormentors… Spoor is, ultimately, a deeply felt yet highly politicised film that certainly won’t appeal to everybody. It divided audiences and critics across Europe, and was attacked in some quarters for everything from being anti-Christian to promoting eco-terrorism. With its fractured narrative, Spoor is occasionally a bit difficult to follow, though finally all the pieces fall into place; it will be very much an individual thing as to whether the picture finally made is appealing. Agnieszka Mandat dominates the film as Janina, creating a character that is appealing, abrasive and exasperating all at once, even for those of us who sympathise with her passionate but hopeless crusade.

Fiancé Killer (2018)

Also known as: A Honeymoon To Die For. Nicole Winters (Kari Wuhrer) is preparing to receive an award for her success as a businesswoman when her daughter, Cameron (Felisha Cooper), unexpectedly announces her engagement to Brent Danner (Adam Huss). Learning that they have only known each other a short time, Nicole is concerned and suspicious—particularly because Cameron is about to assume control of her trust fund. Nicole begins digging into Brent’s past and finds what she considers questionable points, though he has an answer for everything; while Cameron is alienated by what she perceives as her mother’s interference and lack of trust in her. However, the truth is worse than even Nicole suspects: in reality, Brent is involved with the dangerously unstable Lexi (Jean Louise O’Sullivan); and he isn’t merely planning to marry Cameron for her money—he plans to murder her for it… Oh, Fred Olen Ray…has it really come to this?? Fiancé Killer is a sometimes amusing, sometimes tiresome compendium of Lifetime Movie obsessions, from the seemingly perfect guy who turns out to be a killer, to the network’s unshakable belief that any woman who works – particularly if she’s a mother – must be PUNISHED!! Nicole is ultimately vindicated, but not until her, as it turns out, wholly justified suspicions of Brent have nearly ruined her relationship with her daughter, who barely survives Brent and Lexi’s first attempt on her life—during the wedding reception. Nevertheless, Nicole’s suspicions are so immediate, and her determination to find out something about Brent she can use to break off the engagement so obsessive, that (as with Dangerous Intuition) you could easily flip this into an entirely different film about a psycho mother-in-law destroying her daughter’s happiness. The early stages of Fiancé Killer are mostly annoying but the film takes on a new level of entertainment (if simultaneously shedding any credibility) with the intrusion into the plot of the devious Lexi, who begins to suspect – also not without good cause – that Brent is starting to fall for Cameron for real. Jean Louise O’Sullivan’s over-the-top performance either makes or breaks this film, according to your point of view. Kari Wuhrer is okay, though Nicole is irritatingly written; but Felisha Cooper and Adam Huss are just bland. Meredith Thomas appears as Grace, Nicole’s loyal sidekick, who gets what loyal sidekicks usually do in films like this.

(The most exasperating touch in Fiancé Killer has Nicole apologising for building a successful, multi-award-winning cosmetics firm: “After your dad died, I had to find some way to support us”…as she says to the girl who is just about to inherit a $3 million trust fund…)

Mommy Group Murder (2018)

Also known as: The Perfect One. Having given birth to her first child shortly after the death of her mother from cancer, Natalie (Leah Pipes) must then cope with a move to new town, where her husband, Ryan (Ryan Carnes), pours his energies into his new job. Increasingly, Natalie finds herself suffering from post-natal depression, body-image issues and loneliness. Even her attempt to pick up her old, active lifestyle by jogging with Hannah’s pram almost ends in disaster, when some careless teens knock the carriage down a slope. As the terrified Natalie chases the pram, it is stopped by another young mother, Grace (Helena Mattson). The two women then sit and talk, with Natalie revealing some of her difficulties. The understanding Grace tells her that she is a member of a “mommy’s group”, and invites Natalie to join their next get-together. She does so, and enjoys herself; although she also finds herself somewhat intimidated by emergency-room doctor, Maria (Kate Mansi), and young executive, Roz (Nichole Galicia); not to mention by Grace herself, who seems to live a life of easy perfection despite being a single mother. Nevertheless, these new friendships mark an upswing for Natalie—until the discovery of a dark secret and a disappearance shatter everything… This Lifetime thriller is effectively two movies for the price of one. Its early stages offer a surprisingly serious and sympathetic examination of the often-unacknowledged pains and terrors of motherhood (and it is “motherhood”: Ryan’s necessary absences are part of the problem); and Leah Pipes is to be commended both for her committed performance and for (most unusual in these sorts of films) letting herself look like someone at the end of her physical and emotional tether. Of course, this only heightens the contrast with Grace – “Amazing Grace”, as everyone instinctively calls her – who never has a hair out of place, who lives in an immaculate house, and who is so terrifyingly organised, she keeps a plentiful stock of stored breast-milk (disconcerting both Natalie and the viewer with a casual offer of a pack). But with the revelation of Grace’s perfections, Mommy Group Murder does a rapid volte-face and becomes exactly as batshit crazy as we were hoping, with adultery, insanity, kidnapping, identity theft and murder served up in rapid order for our delectation. It is around Maria that the cracks first begin to show themselves: working long hours at the hospital, she becomes increasingly convinced that her husband is cheating on her, despite her friends’ insistence that she is being paranoid. But Maria is right; and her discovery of the infidelity coincides both with her own disappearance and with Natalie’s discovery that Grace is living under a false name—and that, when she was a teenager, her boyfriend was found shot dead shortly after breaking up with her…

Terror In The Woods (2018)

For better or worse – and in some cases, definitely worse – film-makers remain understandably fascinated by the 2014 case of the two 12-year-old girls who stabbed and nearly killed a third girl as a sacrifice to the internet creation, Slender Man. Though we might still have some qualms – and in spite of its inappropriate (and over-used) title – Terror In The Woods is at least a good-faith attempt to get to the bottom of how such a thing could happen, and one that (while changing the names and setting) sticks pretty close to the truth and tells its story in a non-exploitative manner. Coming from a dysfunctional family background, being raised by her step-father (Yohance Myles) in the absence of her mother (Carrie Walrond Hood) and often isolated and bullied at school, Rachel (Ella West Jerrier) takes solace in the internet—becoming fascinated by videos about an entity called the Suzerain. On her first day of middle school, Rachel makes a connection with a girl called Kaitlyn (Sophie Grace McCarthy), who tells her outright that she has a reputation for being “weird”. Meanwhile, Kaitlyn’s mother (Angela Kinsey) must juggle work with family responsibilities, including helping her husband (Drew Powell) to manage his diagnosed mental illness. Often overwhelmed, she does not realise that the daughter she thinks of merely as “creative” and “imaginative” is beginning to suffer her own mental-health problems. Over time, Rachel and Kaitlyn become inseparable; they also buy deeply into one another’s fantasy lives… Setting aside the question of whether or not it should have been made in the first place, there are some good things in Terror In The Woods, including the central performances from the two young leads. Sophie Grace McCarthy (who now goes as simply “Sophie Grace”), in particular, catches the air of prickly insouciance that is often a marker of that age—and which in this case helps to conceal the fact that Kaitlyn’s behavioural issues are more than normal acting out. Given that she is already seeing and hearing things, it is a short step for Kaitlyn to belief in the reality of the Suzerain; while in Rachel, we see rather a deep-seated if unacknowledged desire to punish the world for its treatment of her, one displaced onto the Suzerain and its supposed activities. Though it may have been unavoidable, we might be inclined to feel that Terror In The Woods is, if anything, too sympathetic to its young would-be killers, and conversely insufficiently compassionate towards their intended victim—whose depiction as being irritating to Kaitlyn and Rachel, as they plunge into their imaginary world, is perhaps not well enough distinguished from simply being irritating. Emily (Skylar Morgan Jones) was Kaitlyn’s best friend before Rachel came along; but her own active fantasies tend to a bright world of fairies and fairy princesses, and she is dismissed as soon as Rachel’s darker tendencies make themselves felt. Rachel, however, never gets over her early and immediate jealousy of Emily; and when the girls’ immersion in the world of the Suzerain begins to demand “a sacrifice”, she sees in her rival the perfect victim…

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14 Responses to Et Al. Jan21

  1. RogerBW says:

    R.I.P.D.: I remember the trailers for this. I’m reading this site, I’m at least a bit fond of bad film… but I do like it to have some energy, not just to turn the crank on the same tired old bits of business. Even in the trailer everyone looked bored. (Thinking of which, Future World may be worthy of your attention. Talking of inappropriate and over-used titles…)

    Lizzie Borden: Follow-up series? (Checks.) Ah. I had a rather different vision: each week, a stranger comes to a new town with an axe over her shoulder…

    Fiancé Killer: I imagine Fred Olen Ray would say “I got to make a movie, and they paid me”.

    Terror In The Woods: Perversely enough, this makes me want to explore parallels with the Parker-Hulme murder.


    • lyzmadness says:

      And Fred would be right, of course. Still…

      Yes! – and I nearly made that comparison but then decided it was reaching to link a Lifetime movie (albeit a better-than-expected one) to Beautiful Creatures, even if the two cases are absolutely comparable, in psychological terms. Though the girls were even younger here.


  2. KeithB says:

    Woohoo another et al!

    Eureka Stockade:
    “blotted his copybook” an Australian expression I am not familiar with.
    Lizzie Borden: Any version without a naked Elizabeth Montgomery is not worth it, IMHO.


    • RogerBW says:

      It’s a slightly old-fashioned phrase in England but still generally understood, I think. (Not that we’ve had actual copybooks for several decades, and I imagine most people using the term wouldn’t know what one was.)


      • KeithB says:

        So the equivalent phrase today would be “Drop it down the memory hole.”


      • RogerBW says:

        Sorry, didn’t pick up that it wasn’t clear. The sense is more “did something that permanently damaged his reputation” – the copybook is the school book in which one practices penmanship.


      • lyzmadness says:

        Yes, as Roger says, it was a book for practising penmanship: to smear your writing or drip ink on your page was to “blot your copybook” and was frowned on as careless or a poor standard of work.

        It’s an expression meaning to do something to damage your previously good reputation—one of those that people use these days without really understanding its origins, I guess.


    • lyzmadness says:

      Thanks, Keith! 🙂

      Even that attraction aside, that’s a superior film all around, though it fudges some details too. (I was always fascinated by its suggestion that the elder sister was aware of what was coming and absented herself accordingly.)


  3. WB Kelso says:

    Currently reading William Witney’s autobiography — “In a Door, into a Fight, Out a Door, into a Chase,” who put an authoritative stamp on movie serials when he started directing them. He worked on Mystery Mountain as a gofer, on the FX and miniatures, and as an uncredited stuntman — that’s him riding the horse across the trestle. He had some horrific things to say about Ken Maynard, who, according to Witney, treated his horses abominably, and he also liked to poke fun at Gene Autry, quoting Slim Pickens, who said, “Why is Gene always singing about being ‘Back in the Saddle Again’ when he never touched a saddle in his life.” Fascinating read, and highly recommended.


  4. dawn says:

    Welcome back, we missed you!
    I read the book “The Last Days of Pompeii”, and the movie just seems to use a bunch of names from it. Well, that and the volcano exploding (or earthquaking, or something). There’s corruption and abduction and poison and attempted seduction, which leads to attempted rape, just all sorts of good things.
    The blind girl was the most heartbreaking.


    • lyzmadness says:

      Thank you, my dear! 🙂

      I feel like I’ve read it but it might be a false memory, the sense that I should have. Anyway, I’m not surprised to hear this is a rather loose adaptation.


  5. Aethelred the Unready says:

    I first saw the usually amiable Chow Yun Fat as an all-out villain in Curse of the Golden Flower (2006), and wow, he’s terrifying and horrifying in equal measure. One of the top movie villains, in my opinion, and a testament to his (already incredible) acting prowess.

    Curse of the Golden Flower is an excellent quasi-historical martial arts flick in the style of Crouching Tiger and House of Flying Daggers, but much, much darker.


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